MARSHFIELD – Not many people can capture the transformation from sadness to smiles, but that’s exactly what Carmen Duran is able to do. As a volunteer photographer at Camp HOPE, a camp for grieving children and their families, she is able to witness and photograph unforgettable camp memories.
“Kids come to camp closed off and nervous, but by the end of the camp they’ve made special connections with other kids going through similar circumstances. They slowly start to smile and Carmen is able to document that transformation in such an artistic way,” says Camp HOPE Director Vicky Wittman.
Duran is an Applications Analyst with the Marshfield Clinic Health System and chose to volunteer with Camp HOPE on Lions Lake in Rosholt in honor of the 30th anniversary of her daughter Jessi’s passing.
“Jessi lived with joy every day. She would pick out the brightest, boldest colored crayons, dress in mismatched clothes, jelly shoes and her hat. I wanted a way to donate and celebrate her life because her one little life matters. I have donated monetarily but there is something very rewarding about donating time. Today, my sons make the time to do the same and I am very happy about that,” says Duran.
Duran’s daughter Jessi died of a rare brain tumor at the age of four. One of her sons Alex, was five-and-a-half at the time and remembers how he had to learn about death at such a young age. “Grief is so solitary; but a place like Camp HOPE gives kids and adults a safe place to express their grief with others who understand,” says Duran.
Duran nominated Camp HOPE as part of Security Health Plan’s Employee Driven Corporate Giving Program. Each month Security Health Plan awards a $1,000 grant to a different charity or organization that is nominated by a MCHS employee. Employees are encouraged to nominate organizations making a positive difference in the community.
The Security Health Plan donation will go toward camp programming. “Carmen shared her daughter’s story and it is such an honor that she chose Camp HOPE. I think being a part of Camp HOPE has been healing for her,” says Wittman. “I hope campers walk away knowing it’s okay to live again and be alive again. Physically, your loved one is not with you, but they are still with you. The grief is always there and it comes in waves, but it’s okay to live life for them and because of them,” says Duran.
Kids and families participate in outdoor and indoor activities such as swimming, paddling, arts and crafts, journaling and yoga at Camp HOPE. Along with the adventure activities, there are several meaningful moments including campfire candlelight ceremonies at sunset, drum rituals and a closing ceremony where campers yell across the lake something they want to let go, resulting in loud sounds that echo then slowly fade off the shoreline.
Wittman says campers forge lifelong bonds and often return for reunion camps. “One recent camper said she and her fellow campers lost their dad, but they found each other,” says Wittman.
Camp HOPE celebrates 33 years this year and will welcome its five-thousandth camper this upcoming camp. Organizers rent the serene, outdoor activity and lodging space from the Lions Club and hope with enough donations one day, they will have a permanent camp space of their own.